The Manchester United team that could have been
These days it seems every 30 seconds there is another transfer story published linking a player with Manchester United. Seemingly, if you can put together two good games back-to-back then you’re destined for Old Trafford, or at least that’s what the media likes to report.
I’ve decided to compile a list of the best players who have either played for the the Red Devils, or could realistically have signed for them, and might still be turning out in a Man United shirt to this day. That means this list includes only players who are still playing, or could still be playing, and aren’t currently on the books at Old Trafford. Had things gone differently, this could have been the Red Devils current starting line-up.
Goalkeeper – Tim Howard
Premier League fans will surely be familiar with current Everton shot stopper, Tim Howard. However, some Man United fans may prefer to forget his time at the club. He was bought as an attempt to replace Fabian Barthez, who himself was a replacement for Peter Schmeichel, but after three years and just over 60 games he was sold to Everton. Since signing for Everton, Howard has gone on to make over 300 appearances and establish himself as one of the best and most consistent goalkeepers in the Premier League. He currently sits 10th in the Premier League all time clean sheets list and his heroic performance at the 2014 World Cup was good enough to merit a phone call from the President of the United States. Had he been capable of producing this form under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson then his career at Old Trafford could’ve been much longer. United have often struggled to replace keepers and had he been given a greater opportunity Howard could’ve provided a decade of stability in that role.
Left-back – Patrice Evra
After nearly eight years and almost 400 appearances for Man United Patrice Evra left to join Juventus in the summer of 2014. During his time in Manchester he won five Premier Leagues, an FA Cup and a Champions League. Evra was released as he was considered past his peak at 33 but after making 30 appearances for Juventus and helping them win Serie A, Coppa Italia and reach the Champions League final, questions have to be asked, was Evra released too soon?
Centre-back – Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique learnt to play in Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy. He joined Man U before he had even turned 18 and during his four years there he made 23 appearances for the first team as well as spending a season on loan in Spain. Just as Pique was beginning to make headway in the United squad he decided to return to his former club FC Barcelona. Since then Pique has gone on to establish himself as one of the best defenders in the world. He has won five league titles, two Champions Leagues, a World Cup and a European Championship. Pique was also selected in the FIFA World XI three years running. He departed Manchester as he was feeling homesick but had he stuck it out at United then maybe he could’ve achieved the same feats in a red shirt instead.
Centre-back – Ryan Shawcross
Another former youth team player at Old Trafford, Ryan Shawcross only made two first team appearances both as late substitute in the League Cup in 2007. He never made the grade at Man U and was first loaned to Stoke City and after they won promotion he moved permanently to the Britannia Stadium. In the years since Shawcross has been capped by England and captained his club. Sir Alex Ferguson has since admitted regretting letting him leave and United and the club have made several attempts to re-sign him in recent years.
Right-back – Micah Richards
He may be synonymous with cross town rivals Manchester City but Micah Richards recently claimed that he turned down the chance to sign for either United or Chelsea early on in his career. Man United never really found a long term replacement after Gary Neville retired and a multitude of players have since filled that role. Had Richards joined United instead of City then he could’ve been the man to replace him.
Centre midfield – Paul Pogba
Perhaps releasing Paul Pogba will always be regarded as one of United’s biggest regrets. Despite the fact that he’s only 22 Pogba has already been tipped as a future Ballon d’Or winner. He joined United in 2009 and spent 3 years there. Although he only played a handful of games he was always held in high regard and looked set to play a part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans. However, following a dispute about his wages and lack of playing time, Pogba decided to leave Man United on a free transfer and he hasn’t looked back since.
Centre midfield – Owen Hargreaves
Still only 34, Owen Hargreaves currently works as a pundit for BT Sport but he could easily still be playing, had it not been for a series of injuries forcing him to end his career prematurely. Hargreaves played 34 games in his first season at United helping them win the League and Champions League. He was subsequently released by United after only five appearances in the next three seasons. Following his infamous training videos and an equally disastrous and short lived season at Man City, he called time on his career aged just 31. Had he not succumb to injuries it would be easy to envision Hargreaves still playing at the base of a United midfield in a Michael Carrick-esque role.
Centre midfield – Aaron Ramsey
In the summer of 2008, current Arsenal and Wales star, Aaron Ramsey looked set to join United. Ramsey was on the verge of moving to Manchester, United had even agreed a fee with Cardiff but their bid to sign him fell at the final hurdle. Ramsey later revealed he choose Arsenal as he believed that they wanted him more and they had a track record of developing young players. Ferguson described the man who got the winning goal in last years FA Cup final as, “the one that got away.”
Right wing – Gareth Bale
One rumour that refuses to go away is the transfer of Gareth Bale to United. United have reportedly tried to sign him many times in an attempt to replace Cristiano Ronaldo. The thing that even the most ardent supporter might not know is that Sir Alex tried to sign Bale before he became a global superstar. Sir Alex tried to sign a teenage Bale from Southampton in 2007 but Bale rejected the move choosing, like Ramsey, to move to North London in hopes of more regular football. Maybe, had United been able to give assurances of first team football they could’ve landed both Bale and Ramsey. It would appear that this was the only barrier that prevented the two of them from accepting the lure of playing alongside their boyhood hero Ryan Giggs.
Left wing – Cristiano Ronaldo
Probably the most obvious name on this list, not much else needs to be said. Ronaldo joined Man United in 2003 and went on to establish himself as the world’s best player in 2008. Since his departure to Madrid in 2009, for a world record fee, he has gone from strength to strength and even improved as a player. United fans can only dream of what he could’ve achieved had he never left.
Striker – Carlos Tevez
Another superstar who was permitted to leave the Theatre of Dreams at the end of his two year loan spell was Carlos Tevez. Sir Alex Ferguson thought, “he was an impact player,” and he, “wouldn’t have paid that kind of money,” for the Argentinian. He might’ve left United but he didn’t leave Manchester moving across the city to the Blue half of Manchester and he’s now playing with former United players Evra and Pogba at Juventus. He has upped his goal tally from one in three to one in two; pipped United to a League title in 2012 and won two league titles as well as reaching this years Champions league final with Juventus, not bad for an, “impact player.” He might not be welcome back to United now but maybe he should never have left. The manager and the club choose to let him go even though he was reluctant to leave. Had they realised what Tevez was capable of he would probably still be a United player to this day.
Striker – Mame Biram Diouf – Notorious flop at United but has since returned to the Premier League with Stoke and has had a decent debut season scoring 10 league goals.
Midfielder – John Obi Mikel – Very highly rated as a youngster and looked to have secured a move to United but it fell through at the last second and he ended up at Chelsea instead.
Striker – Danny Welbeck – Man United’s utility man, played over 100 games for the club before joining Arsenal last season. He was an important player for the club and a few people were unhappy when he left. He showed what he’s capable of when he helped Arsenal reach the FA Cup final after dispatching his former employers with the winning goal in the quarter final tie.
Goalkeeper – Ben Foster – He spent five years at United with two of them on loan at Watford. Fell victim to the success of Van Der Sar and ultimately moved on in 2010. Post United, Foster has established himself as a quality Premier League and international keeper earning a respectable eight caps for England.
Defender – John O’Shea – O’Shea amassed almost 400 appearances for United, playing in every single position. He might’ve just turned 34 but he could still be a decent back up for the first team especially with his experience and versatility.
Midfielder – Wesley Sneijder – He has been linked with a move to Manchester for the last three years and a move could still happen. He came very close to joining several times and he looks likely to link up with former national boss Louis Van Gaal again at Old Trafford.
Goalkeeper – Ron Robert Zieler – Another story of what could’ve been. Zieler was a member of Germany’s World Cup winning team in 2014 and he’s a first choice for Hannover in the Bundesliga but he could’ve been United number one instead.